Overseas visits to the UK are set to pass 40m for the first time in 2018, according to VisitBritain, which is predicting tourists will spend a record £27bn over the coming 12 months.
A double-digit fall in the pound against the euro and the dollar is helping drive visits and allow tourism to buck predictions of a post-referendum slowdown in the British economy.
The national tourism agency said 2017 was a record year for inbound tourism to the UK – with 39.9m visits. Next year, it is predicting that will reach 41.7m – a 4.4% rise on this year, meaning hotels and restaurants in popular destinations such as London, Bath, Edinburgh and Cambridge can expect a record year.
The 2017 tourist boom drove strong sales for British luxury brands such as Burberry, which helped propel Bond Street in London into the top three of the world’s most expensive store locations, overtaking Paris’s Champs-Élysées.
Travellers predominately from Europe, the US and China have been arriving in ever increasing numbers to buy luxury designer brands for lower prices than they can get at home. Meanwhile, other destinations linked to popular books, films and TV programmes are expected to continue to pull in the crowds. They include the Northern Ireland locations used in Game of Thrones. During 2017 events linked to the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book and the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen proved popular.
Patricia Yates, VisitBritain’s director, said: “Tourism is one of the UK’s most valuable export industries. It is also a fiercely competitive global industry and these results not only demonstrate Britain’s continued ability to compete internationally for visitors, they are testament to tourism’s importance as a driver of economic growth.
“We are working with partners across the world to tell customers of experiences they can only have in Britain and encourage them to book a trip now. We have seen good growth this year from the US and China, and are developing new products that make it easier for overseas visitors to book and explore all of Britain.”
Visitors from other European countries were the biggest overall group last year with 19.6m visits from January to September, up 4% on last year. Tourists from North America topped 3.8 million over the same period – a 14% increase on 2016’s figure.
There were 5m visits from the rest of the world in the first nine months of 2017 – including markets such as Australia, China, the Gulf markets and India – with an increase in visits of 15% compared with last year.
The UK was ranked third for tourism globally in the 2017 Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index (NBI) published last month, equalling its highest rank ever and up two places from last year.
The NBI considered attributes including historic buildings and monuments, having a vibrant city life and natural beauty. When considering its overall brand, the UK also ranked third out of 50 nations, a position it has held since 2011 despite questions marks over the country’s international standing in the wake of the Brexit vote.
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